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Libya's rebel youth: a ragtag, highly enthusiastic but highly undisciplined force

Ryan Lucas of AP reports from Zwitina, Libya: Coalition forces bombarded Libya for a third straight night Monday, targeting the air defenses and forces of Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, stopping his advances and handing some momentum back to the rebels, who were on the verge of defeat just last week.

But the rebellion's more organized military units were still not ready, and the opposition disarray underscored U.S. warnings that a long stalemate could emerge.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

Libyan rebels retreat as mortars from Moammar Gadhafi's forces are fired on them on the frontline of the outskirts of the city of Ajdabiya on March 22.

Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

Ismail, 18, a high school student who has joined the Libyan rebellion, poses for a portrait in a burned out building of a military base in the rebel headquarters of Benghazi on March 14.

Among the rebels, as well, there was a realization that fighting could be drawn out. Mohammed Abdul-Mullah, a 38-year-old civil engineer from Benghazi who was fighting with the rebel force, said government troops stopped all resistance after the international campaign began.

"The balance has changed a lot," he said. "But pro-Gadhafi forces are still strong. They are a professional military and they have good equipment. Ninety percent of us rebels are civilians, while Gadhafi's people are professional fighters."

Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

A rebel fighter carries his weapon outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah on March 21.

Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

Mohammed, 18, a high school student who has joined the Libyan rebellion, poses for a portrait in a burned out building of a military base in the rebel headquarters of Benghazi on March 14. Countless young Libyan males have quit school or work to join the ranks of rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

Disorganization among the rebels could also hamper their attempts to exploit the turn of events. Since the uprising began, the opposition has been made up of disparate groups even as it took control of the entire east of the country.

Regular citizens — residents of the "liberated" areas — took up arms and formed a ragtag, highly enthusiastic but highly undisciplined force that in the past weeks has charged ahead to fight Gadhafi forces, only to be beaten back by superior firepower. Regular army units that joined the rebellion have proven stronger, more organized fighters, but only a few units have joined the battles while many have stayed behind as officers struggle to get together often antiquated, limited equipment and form a coordinated force.

Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

Rebel fighters rest outside the northeastern Libyan town of Ajdabiyah on March 21. A wave of air strikes on Monday hit Gadhafi's troops around Ajdabiyah, a strategic town in the barren, scrub of eastern Libya that rebels aim to retake and where their fighters said they need more help to take the battle to the enemy.

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